Crowded offices, constant comings and goings and a boss who dislikes people in masks: the coronavirus has easily made its home in the White House, until it contaminated the President of the United States.
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The announcement Friday of Donald and Melania Trump’s positive COVID-19 result sparked a race to find contact cases and emergency screenings in the halls of the presidency. And it’s not an easy job.
Carried away by the crowd
Avoid gatherings, wear your mask and respect a physical distance? Not for Donald Trump, who has multiplied campaign meetings with thousands of supporters huddled together and who for the most part did not wear masks.
On Wednesday in Minnesota, he was accompanied by his close collaborator Hope Hicks, who tested positive for COVID-19 the next day.
Mr. Trump is now seeing his campaign halted. A meeting scheduled for Friday in Florida has been canceled and he was also due to go to Wisconsin on Saturday, where cases are on the rise, and then to the western part of the country, including Arizona, next week.
Many rallies are held in the open, but Mr. Trump spoke to hundreds of supporters in closed arenas in Florida and Georgia last week.
He also hosted many guests at the White House to announce his intention to appoint Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. It tested negative, the presidency said on Friday.
With its small rooms and corridors, the White House is a former dwelling, converted into the power center of the world’s leading power.
Even the famous Oval Office is easily crowded and for employees, a table set up in an alcove often serves as a desk.
Mr. Trump’s influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, works in one of the smallest rooms in the White House. But, he said in Time magazine, his position is strategic: right next to the president’s private dining room.
Nearly 400 people work in the White House, besides the journalists crammed in the wing reserved for the press and who scrupulously respect the wearing of the mask … unlike the employees of the presidency.
Donald Trump is frequently reluctant to wear a face mask, saying he is safe with regular screening through the rapid test designed by Abbott Laboratories.
If it gives a result within minutes, its accuracy has been questioned by researchers. And its use is not widespread. Some journalists are routinely tested, unlike others who may end up within inches of the president, especially when answering questions before leaving the White House.
Mr. Trump himself explained that he is tested “on average every two or three days”, knowing that several people working in the White House have been infected with the virus in recent months.
The road and the air
If the feeling of proximity is palpable in the White House, it is even more so on Air Force One, the presidential plane, Marine One, its helicopter, or its limousine nicknamed “the Beast”, modes of transport where passengers can practically touch the chair.
Hope Hicks accompanied Mr. Trump on Tuesday to Cleveland, for the first presidential debate against Joe Biden, then the next day in Minnesota, notably aboard Marine One.
According to the New York Times, the 31-year-old felt the first symptoms upon returning from Minnesota and went into self-quarantine aboard Air Force One.
During the debate in Cleveland, those close to the president wore a mask as they entered the room. But most of them took it off while sitting down.
And a few days earlier, Donald Trump’s close advisers were not masked as they prepared with him for the first presidential debate.
“No, nobody wore a mask in the room when we were preparing the president,” said one of them, Chris Christie.
According to the former governor of New Jersey, the team consisted of “about five or six people.”